How great thou bark

Carter Haydu
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Learning to appreciate the dog lovers of New York and the world over

I’ve recently returned from a 10-day vacation to Empire City and have learned precisely three things: 1) There’s too much traffic for anyone to drive in New York; 2) Every city should be based on a similar strict grid system, and; 3) The good people of Manhattan Island, at least in the Upper East Side, worship their furry little friends.

Everyone in New York, it seems, has a dog.

As you, my loyal readers, are undoubtedly aware, when they put the call out for folks to pick their favourite pet, I clearly placed myself in the cat camp. However, in a rare act of humility I will begrudgingly admit the adoration people feel towards their dogs is somewhat admirable.

I always figure the problem with cats is also what makes them so great — they are basically like little people, only even more lazy, self-involved and prideful. Dogs on the other hand seem more like the ideal of what a person should be — enthusiastic, helpful, and selfless. Most importantly, it appears to a person that a dog feels absolute, unconditional love for his or her owner.

Of course, this is largely an illusion — anthropomorphism at its best. Dogs have a brain structure quite different to their human counterparts, and they’re driven more by routine and inbred instinct than by any sort of compassion and sense of human-to-animal camaraderie. If a person were to actually think like a dog, he or she would probably be very alien and emotionally detached from the rest of the community.

However, as far as any human can tell, dogs love people. Because of this perceived affection canines show their bipedal bald ape masters, it seems people are more than willing to thrust back gobs of affection in return.

I must confess I was at one time a bit skeptical — bordering on resentful — of the dog people. They seemed ridiculous. Times-Herald reporter Lyndsay McCready (currently on maternity leave) seems to me to be the zeitgeist of a dog person. When she talks about her domestic life, she’ll refer to her pets and children in an almost interchangeable fashion. Of course I correctly presume her children are more important to her than her dogs, but she still thinks of those dumb lumbering bichon terriers as members of the family as well.

My thought has historically been to write off the affection people feel for dogs as unproductive and a waste of resources; financially, time-wise, and emotionally. If people redirected all the attention they waste on dogs (as I once argued), we could cure world hunger, eliminate cancer and invent the better hot pepper faster than you could say “agility training.”

However, as I indicated earlier, I no longer carry this viewpoint. Rather, I’ve come to appreciate that dog people do what they do to an end that benefits the whole of society. In one sense, the Lindsay McCreadys of the world are quite pragmatic. Dog people are, in fact, training themselves as much as they are their canines — practicing the art of being better human beings.

While this isn’t a perfect philosophic fit, I am sort of reminded of Wittgenstein’s ladder. When people show affection towards dogs (or any animal for that matter), they are in a sense developing a moral centre that will translate over into the relationships people have with other people. By showing compassion for a dog and experiencing the perceived affection of the pet in return, one is in fact learning to show and receive such familiarities with people also. It’s emotional education.

Of course, Wittgenstein suggests kicking the proverbial ladder away once one has reached the top, which doesn’t seem to fit with how people should treat their pets. It would, after all, seem a tad illogical for one to perfect compassion skills with his or her dog, only to then uncompassionately get rid of animal once attaining this enlightened state.

Developing oneself in this capacity isn’t something that really ever ends either, so the dog people can always improve themselves through the love they feel for their four-legged friends. I think we cat people learn this from our particular pets as well, although perhaps not always as blatantly as do those with dogs. After all, loving a dog does require a lot more work than loving a cat.

And so it was in New York that I witnessed this very ancient relationship between ‘Man and Beast.’ I marvelled as approximately 8.2 million people loyally followed their Chihuahuas, toy poodles, English bulldogs and Alopekis around the concrete jungle of North America’s greatest city, picking up poop, cautiously protecting their precious pets from passing larger breeds, and simply showing all the love and affection for which dog people the world over have become renowned.

As American humourist Corey Ford once said: “Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.”

Carter Haydu can be reached at 691-1265.

Geographic location: New York, Empire City, Manhattan Island North America

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